When he was 16, James Tate Hill’s eyesight changed forever. A diagnosis of Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy put a name to what he was experiencing as his vision faded: “Picture a kaleidoscope . . . a time-lapsed photograph of a distant galaxy. . . . Imagine a movie filmed with only extras, a meal cooked using nothing but herbs and a dash of salt, a sentence constructed of only metaphors.”
In his disarmingly honest and funny memoir, Blind Man’s Bluff, Hill—a writing instructor, audiobooks columnist, editor and author of academic-satire-murder-mystery Academy Gothic (2015)—shares his journey from denial to acceptance, from pretending to be fully sighted to acknowledging the truth he worked so hard to hide.
Hill writes movingly of the internalized shame and stigma that had such a strong hold on him for some 15 years, sharing both the pain of loneliness and isolation (much of it self-imposed) and the clever strategies he employed in his efforts to pass for sighted. Misdirects included feigning eye contact, asking restaurant waitstaff for recommendations rather than attempting to read a menu and, when he began teaching college classes, telling students to go ahead and speak without first raising their hands.
The author is adept at humor in Blind Man’s Bluff—such as when he writes, “In New York City, most people didn’t drive. I wasn’t blind; I was a New Yorker.”—and he also deploys finely tuned, often deliciously slow-building suspense. (Can he cross a busy street unharmed? Is it possible to walk at graduation without revealing the truth? Will he find love again after his divorce?)
Readers will root for Hill as he travels the long, rocky road from self-flagellation to self-confidence, developing an affection for 1980s pop culture along the way. They’ll also likely find themselves wishing he’d be kinder to himself—and feeling relieved and optimistic when, at last, he is.
Blind Man’s Bluff is an inspiring, often incredible story that reminds us of the strength that can come from vulnerability, from opening ourselves to warts-and-all human connection. As Hill writes, “Wisdom, it turns out, is acknowledging where I cannot go without help.”